I feel I must say up front … this is the first Austen title I’ve ever read!
Kind of sad, I think. All three of my daughters have read at least one Austen novel, and my oldest daughter has read Pride and Prejudice too many times to count. Oh well, better late than never.
Before I opened up to page one I knew what the story was about. I’ve seen the 1995 movie staring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet several times over the years. I knew the story, or at least I thought I did.
The novel tells the story of Elinor and Marianne, two of the three daughters of recently widowed, Mrs. Dashwood. The home and property where they currently reside, Norland Park, is inherited by the older son of Mr. Dashwood (from a previous marriage) and the family now needs to relocate. Fortunately, Mrs. Dashwood has a cousin, Sir John Middleton, who graciously offers them the use of Barton Cottage near his home and the bereaved family move there.
Elinor, the elder sister with the sense, and Marianne, her younger sister with the sensibility are the heroines of the story. These two young women are as different as day and night. Elinor, with her great sense is the one who holds everything together. She has a sense of duty, behaves properly at all times, controls her emotions, and endures difficult social situations with grace.
Marianne, on the other hand, with her great sensibility is quite the opposite. All of her emotions are worn on her sleeve. She feels deeply both joy and pain with seemingly little capacity to control it. Nobody can have any doubt as to how she feels or what she’s thinking.
Elinor falls in the love with Edward Ferrars, the brother of her sister in law Fanny who is the new mistress of Norland Park. Fanny lets her mother in law know in no uncertain terms that any kind of connection between Edward and Elinor is impossible and completely out of the question. His mother, Mrs. Ferrars, has plans for him to marry well, and any attempt by Elinor, who has neither fortune nor rank, to “draw him in” will not be tolerated by the family.
Shortly after moving to Barton Cottage, Marianne meets the dashing John Willoughby. He rescues her after a fall in which she twists her ankle badly while walking with her younger sister Margaret. Over the following weeks he’s a frequent guest at Barton Cottage and she falls madly in love with him. It appears an offer for marriage will take place at any moment. Except that it doesn’t. And Marianne’s grief is more than she can bear.
Elinor’s troubles are heightened by Miss Lucy Steele, who reveals a secret to Elinor, a secret which causes Elinor much pain and anguish. She is sworn to secrecy by Lucy and therefore her suffering cannot be shared with anyone. Of course Elinor bears all this with remarkable grace and fortitude. So while Marianne suffers openly, indulging herself in a continuous pity-party, Elinor suffers in silence, while steadfastly supporting her sister.
There are scandals and deceptions and broken hearts and disinheriting of sons and much snobbery and selfishness and drama, and an awful lot of weeping … by Marianne. Can you tell I had trouble being patient with her sensibility? Several times I wanted to sit her down and tell her to just get a grip!
The book is filled with Jane Austen’s dry humor and sarcasm! There were numerous times I smiled as I read and sometimes even laughed out loud. In the passage below Austen gives the reader some insight into John Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne’s brother, who promised their father on his death bed that he would take care of them. Instead, he provided nothing of substance even though financially he was more than able to do so.
He had just compunction enough for having done nothing for his sisters himself, to be exceedingly anxious that everybody else should do a great deal; and an offer from Colonel Brandon, or a legacy from Mrs. Jennings, was the easiest means of atoning for his own neglect.
In another passage Austen describes Mrs. Ferrars, the mother of Edward Ferrars.
She was not a woman of many words; for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas: and of the few syllables that did escape her, not one fell to the share of Miss Dashwood, whom she eyed with the spirited determination of disliking her at all events.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the book there were a number of instances that I had trouble understanding exactly what she was trying to say. I thought she tended to overuse pronouns at times. “He” or “she” were used so numerously in some paragraphs that I wasn’t sure who exactly she was talking about and had to reread the passage in an effort to keep things straight. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the book!
If you have seen the movie and not read the book but think you know the story, I’m here to tell you that you probably don’t know as much as you think. The movie leaves out some characters altogether, changes a number of plot details, and shrinks the story which is not surprising for a movie to do. And not only that, there are certain details of the characters’ lives that are never or barely hinted at in the movie. For instance, how do the Ferrars family handle the marriage of Robert and Lucy? And what about Edward? Is he ever accepted back into his family after being so cruelly disowned by them? What about Mr. Willoughby? Is there more to his story than the film version gives?
When I closed the book I was all smiles and continued to smile for some time thinking about the story. Yes, it has a happy ending.
I do like happy endings, don’t you?